This Altered Carbon review contains spoilers.
Altered Carbon Episode 8
“Clash by Night” seems to be specifically engineered to force viewers to proceed to episode nine to figure out what they just saw in this episode of Altered Carbon. With Reileen stepping into the spotlight and Kovacs ostensibly wrapping up the Bancroft case, the revelations would seem to preclude so many hanging threads, but there are so many layers of deception to this century-spanning tale that it would be naive to think anything has been resolved. In this case, strangely, the resulting confusion just leaves viewers wanting more.
For one thing, Reileen’s insistence that she’s doing all this to bring her and Takeshi together as brother and sister is increasingly hard to comprehend. It’s bad enough that she has the blood of all of the Envoys from Stronghold on her hands; the fact that she owns the clinic that Kovacs was tortured in and others just like it — plus her willingness to use the threat of further harm to those Kovacs has grown close to — removes all credibility from her argument. She’s now full villain in the audience’s eyes and possibly those of her brother as well.
That being said, her ultimatum that Kovacs finish the job Bancroft hired him to do gives us the best sequence of the episode. The frame-up of Oumou Prescott was masterfully handled, especially since it allowed Kovacs to make use of his camaraderie with Elliot and Poe, and seeing the Prick Up’s AI poisoned by the Rawling virus was a great payoff to the malevolent poker game earlier in the season. Using the Stronghold stacks to reverse engineer the virus provided some poetic justice as well.
In a sense, both Poe and Elliot may have been the only ones to find a bit of closure in this episode. Bringing Ava in as a dipper certainly had its practical uses, too, but Lizzie’s reunion with her parents provided a rare happy ending for the Elliot family at least for now. The fact that Lizzie recognizes her mother immediately despite the male sleeve is a nice touch, especially given her wonderfully understated observation, “You changed your hair,” and it created a humorous contrast to Vernon’s initial awkwardness when his wife first entered.
Speaking of contrast, the Elliot family reunion couldn’t have been more different from what happens with Kovacs and Ortega, and the hurtful things that the Envoy has to say to keep her at a distance is almost as painful for the audience as it is for the lieutenant. Her resulting pursuit of the mysterious woman who took Kovacs gives us the incredible fight scene in the Psychasec vault (kudos to Dichen Lachman for her brave nude swordplay), but it also places Ortega in considerable danger since we know who is really inside that young girl sleeve.
Kovacs has other things to worry about other than his guilt over sending Ortega into harms way, though. Apparently, he has had a realization about what really happened with Bancroft and perhaps Mary Lou Henchy as well, and it has something to do with the telescope, the Head in the Clouds establishment, the Stallion male aggression enhancer, and Reileen. Quell, in her hallucinatory form, seems to think Kovacs weaved some truth about these connections into his false narrative placing blame on Prescott, but most viewers are still probably trying to puzzle it out themselves.
That’s what makes “Clash by Night” such a great episode leading into the final two. It provides comeuppance to characters like the Prick Up AI and Prescott, closure for characters like Poe and Elliot, and a plausible story to satisfy Laurens and Miriam Bancroft. Heck, it even sounded like a pretty good explanation to us, and we knew it was complete fabrication! But Prescott was wearing a blonde sleeve, and Bancroft does have a thing for snuff jobs with blondes, so we can’t help but wonder how much of it ties into the real solution, subconsciously put together by Kovacs.
Honestly, having to write this review without peeking at episode nine was a difficult task. Netflix has achieved just the right balance for a show that is eminently binge-able but that also occasionally requires a slower pace to absorb all of what is happening. Only a streaming service could carry off that task, and the season so far inspires gratitude that the long-suffering Altered Carbon development deal ended in a ten-episode bonanza rather than a whirlwind theatrical release that would have short-circuited our stacks if we had them.